Wednesday, June 29, 2011

For Many Greeks, Here's What Austerity Will Look Like

A top ten list of austerity measures adopted. This is the sort of thing that imposed all at once can destabilize a country.
  1. Taxes will increase by 2.32 billion euros this year and 3.38 billion, 152 million and 699 million in the three subsequent years. There will be higher property taxes and an increase in the value-added tax (VAT) from 19 percent to 23 percent.
  2. Luxury levies will be introduced on yachts, pools and cars and there will be special levies on profitable firms, high-value properties and people with high incomes.
  3. Excise taxes on fuel, cigarettes and alcohol will rise by one-third.
  4. Public sector wages will be cut by 15 percent.
  5. Defense spending will be cut by 200 million euros in 2012 and 333 million each year from 2013 to 2015.
  6. Education spending will be cut by closing or merging 1,976 schools.
  7. Social Security will be cut by 1.09 billion euros this year, 1.28 billion in 2012, 1.03 billion in 2013, 1.01 billion in 2014 and 700 million in 2015. There also will be means testing, and the statutory retirement age will be raised to 65 from 61.
  8. The government will privatize a number of its enterprises, including the OPAP gambling monopoly, the Hellenic Postbank, several port operations, Hellenic Telecom and will sell its stake in Athens Water, Hellenic Petroleum, PPC electric utility and lender ATEank, as well as ports, airports, motorway concessions, state land and mining rights.
  9. Only one in 10 civil servants retiring this year will be replaced and one in five in coming years.
  10. Health spending will be cut by 310 million euros this year and 1.81 billion euros from 2012 to 2015. 
From here.

Bad Habits Plague Economic Forecasting

Three years after the Great Recession ought to have challenged even the most basic assumptions made by economists, they have instead settled back into the costly habits of old.

The same experts who largely missed the onslaught of the worst recession since World War II have consistently overestimated the strength of the recovery in major Western economies.

An analysis of Reuters polls shows economists were too optimistic about 20 out of 27 major monthly indicators for April and May in the United States, the euro zone and Britain — a list that includes industrial output, jobs, business and consumer sentiment data, and purchasing managers' indexes.

While oil price surges earlier this year and March's devastating earthquake in Japan have undoubtedly made forecasting trickier in recent months, the schism between what was "expected" and the gloomier reality that follows reappears with regularity.

All too often these indicators — the May U.S. non-farm payrolls and The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia's June business conditions index, to name just a couple — came in well below even the lowest forecasts provided by dozens of economists from banks and research institutions.

"They've underestimated the scale of the shock and people think it's all over, and they want to be back to business as usual," said David Blanchflower, professor of economics at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, and a former member of the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee.

"The problem is that it isn't, and we are not 'back to business' any time soon."
Read the rest here.

S&P to Deeply Cut US Ratings if Debt Payment Missed

The United States would immediately have its top-notch credit rating slashed to "selective default" if it misses a debt payment on August 4, Standard & Poor's managing director John Chambers told Reuters.

Chambers, who is also the chairman of S&P's sovereign ratings committee, told Reuters on Tuesday that U.S. Treasury bills maturing on Aug. 4 would be rated 'D' if the government fails to honor them. Unaffected Treasuries would be downgraded as well, but not as sharply, he said.

"If the U.S. government misses a payment, it goes to D," Chambers said. "That would happen right after August 4, when the bills mature, because they don't have a grace period."

Fears of a technical default have been rising after budget negotiations between Democrats and Republicans fell apart in Washington earlier this week.
Read the rest here.

An Update

This from a friend of the blog...

You had earlier expressed an interest in this case on your blog (see URL below), so I wondered if you had noticed that the Supreme Court just denied certiorari a few weeks ago. "Petition for writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of California denied." Martinez v. Regents of the Univ. of Cal., 180 L. Ed. 2d 245 (U.S. 2011).  In other words, California's policy will be allowed to stand for the foreseeable future. - Greg DeLassus


Thanks for the update.

Romanian President Launches Fierce Attack On King Michael

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Romania's president has launched a stinging attack on the country's former ruler, King Michael, accusing him of being responsible for the Holocaust in Romania, and calling him "a Russian lackey."

In an interview on the B1 television channel late Wednesday, Traian Basescu said as Michael was head of state during the pro-fascist

regime of dictator Marshal Ion Antonescu — prime minister from 1940 to 1944, during World War II — he should also be considered responsible for the death of some 280,000 Jews and 11,000 Gypsies.

In 1944, when Romania was allied with Hitler's fascists, Michael staged a coup against Antonescu, and Romania switched sides to the Allies.

Basescu called Michael "a Russian lackey" in the interview, adding that his abdication — forced by Soviet-backed Communists in Dec. 1947 — was "an act of treason."

In Nov. 1947, with the communists gaining a hold over Romania and the region — which led to the monarchs of eastern Europe moving to Western Europe — Michael surprised the government by returning to Bucharest after attending the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip in Britain.

A month later the Soviet-backed communist government told him if he did not sign his abdication, 1,000 Romanians would be executed. He abdicated on Dec. 31, 1947 and began a life of exile in Britain and Switzerland. His Romanian citizenship was restored in 1997.

Basescu's comments stunned Romanians, who respect the former monarch, and praise his role in their history. Basescu's stance echoed that of the communist era when Michael was belittled by the regime, and his role was downplayed.

Relations between Basescu and Michael became strained after the former king's son-in-law announced he would run for president against Basescu in 2009 elections.

The president is embattled after his plans to reorganize Romanian territory were refused by opposition parties and an ethnic Hungarian party whose support the government needs to survive.

Michael, who will be 90-years old this year, is one of the few surviving World War II leaders and had good relations with the Jewish community when he was king.
Source.

The Mad Monarchist has posted a response to this rather unjust attack (caution: language)...
The President of Romania, that traitor, that swine, that pinko-commie-bastard of a turncoat Traian Basescu, in a televised interview on Wednesday launched into a slanderous tirade aimed at his own lawful and legitimate monarch, HM King Michael I, a man held dear by many Romanians even if they do not support his restoration to his rightful throne. This political pig and walking insult to the Romanian nation, blamed the King for everything done by the pro-Nazi dictator General Ion Antonescu, including the deaths of all of the Romanian Jews and Gypsies killed in the Holocaust. This in spite of the fact that the pro-Nazi government was only removed from power when the young King Michael of the Romanians planned and successfully executed a coup against them that removed them from power and took Romania out of the Axis and into the Allied camp.
Read the rest here (he is just warming up).

Iceland Declares Independence from International Banks

Iceland is free. And it will remain so, so long as her people wish to remain autonomous of the foreign domination of her would-be masters — in this case, international bankers.

On April 9, the fiercely independent people of island-nation defeated a referendum that would have bailed out the UK and the Netherlands who had covered the deposits of British and Dutch investors who had lost funds in Icesave bank in 2008.

At the time of the bank’s failure, Iceland refused to cover the losses. But the UK and Netherlands nonetheless have demanded that Iceland repay them for the “loan” as a condition for admission into the European Union.

In response, the Icelandic people have told Europe to go pound sand. The final vote was 103,207 to 69,462, or 58.9 percent to 39.7 percent. “Taxpayers should not be responsible for paying the debts of a private institution,” said Sigriur Andersen, a spokeswoman for the Advice group that opposed the bailout.

A similar referendum in 2009 on the issue, although with harsher terms, found 93.2 percent of the Icelandic electorate rejecting a proposal to guarantee the deposits of foreign investors who had funds in the Icelandic bank. The referendum was invoked when President Olafur Ragnur Grimmson vetoed legislation the Althingi, Iceland’s parliament, had passed to pay back the British and Dutch.

Under the terms of the agreement, Iceland would have had to pay £2.35 billion to the UK, and €1.32 billion to the Netherlands by 2046 at a 3 percent interest rate. Its rejection for the second time by Iceland is a testament to its people, who feel they should bear no responsibility for the losses of foreigners endured in the financial crisis.
Read the rest here.

How you know the negotiations have truly failed

The best advice I’ve gotten for assessing the debt-ceiling negotiations was to “watch for the day when the White House goes public.” As long as the Obama administration was refusing to attack Republicans publicly, my source said, they believed they could cut a deal. And that held true. They were quiet when the negotiations were going on. They were restrained after Eric Cantor and Jon Kyl walked out last week. Press Secretary Jay Carney simply said, “We are confident that we can continue to seek common ground and that we will achieve a balanced approach to deficit reduction.” But today they went public. The negotiations have failed.

“The primary goal of President Obama’s presser, which just wrapped up, was obvious,” writes Greg Sargent. “He was clearly out to pick a major public fight with Republicans over tax cuts for the rich.” That’s exactly right. But he didn’t want this fight. He wanted a deal. And he wasn’t able to get one that the White House considered even minimally acceptable. After putting more than $2 trillion of spending cuts on the table, they weren’t even able to get $400 billion — about a sixth of the total — in tax increases.

The conventional wisdom is that now this fight moves to the people. I’d put it differently. Now this fight moves to the consequences. Neither side is going to give in the face of purely rhetorical salvos. The White House is expecting Republicans to accuse them of wanting to raise taxes. The Republicans are expecting the White House to accuse them of putting the interests of large corporations and wealthy donors in front of the needs of seniors, children and the poor. Both parties have seen the poll numbers behind their positions. If a few news conferences were going to be sufficient to end this, it would never have started.

What the two parties are really doing is trying to position themselves politically to survive the consequences of their failure. We don’t yet know if we’ll get to the point where the market will panic, but it could. We’re very likely to get to the point where we have to stop funding certain government services, which could mean as little as delaying payments to military contractors and hospitals or as much as halting Social Security checks. Either way, the public is likely to ignore the political breakdown until the consequences begin. At that point, both parties are hoping they will have framed the debate such that the electorate’s fury falls squarely on the other’s shoulders. That’s what today’s news conference was about.

But this isn’t a fight to look forward to. As the parties battle this out in public, their bases will polarize and compromise will become even more difficult. Think it’s hard for Republicans to vote for taxes now? Wait till Fox News and the Tea Party spend two months defining this as the definitional vote for both the Republican Party and its leadership. Think it’s hard for President Obama to give up revenues now? Give him two months to sell his base on the idea that it’d be immoral to make a deal that doesn’t include revenues. And the more the two sides lock into their positions, the worse the consequences will have to be before one side or the other buckles and takes a deal.

All in all, this might be a good time to follow Eric Cantor’s lead and hedge your exposure to treasuries.
Source.

Federal appeals court in Cincinnati upholds health overhaul

CINCINNATI — In the first ruling by a federal appeals court on President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul, a panel in Cincinnati handed the administration a victory Wednesday by agreeing that the government can require a minimum amount of insurance for Americans.

A Republican-appointed judge joined with a Democratic appointee for the 2-1 majority in another milestone for Obama’s hotly debated signature domestic initiative — the first time a Republican federal court appointee has affirmed the merits of the law.

The White House and Justice Department hailed the panel’s affirmation of an earlier ruling by a federal court in Michigan; opponents of the law said challenges will continue to the U.S. Supreme Court.

At issue is a conservative law center’s lawsuit arguing on behalf of plaintiffs that potentially requiring them to buy insurance or face penalties could subject them to financial hardship. The suit warns that the law is too broad and could lead to more federal mandates.

The Thomas More Law Center, based in Ann Arbor, Mich., argued before the panel that the law was unconstitutional and that Congress overstepped its powers.
Read the rest here.

Obama attacks GOP stance: ‘Indefensible’

President Obama on Wednesday used his harshest language yet to urge congressional Republicans to agree to end tax breaks “for millionaires and billionaires” as part of a deal to reduce the annual budget deficit, calling the lawmakers’ refusal to consider any tax increases “indefensible.”

But he also predicted that Republicans would reconsider their position as the deadline nears for raising the nation’s limit on borrowing.

At a press conference in the East Room of the White House, Obama said he is willing to cut spending on a range of programs by more than $1 trillion, to trim the defense budget and to look for ways to control entitlement costs. But he said Republicans must agree to allow taxes to rise on the wealthiest Americans and to eliminate tax breaks for oil companies and corporate jet owners.

“It would be hard for Republicans to stand there and say that the tax break for corporate jets is sufficiently important that we’re not willing to come to the table and get a deal done,” Obama said. “What we’ve seen in negotiations here in Washington is a lot of people say a lot of things to satisfy their base or to get on cable news.”

“Hopefully leaders at a certain point rise to the occasion and do the right thing for the American people,” the president added.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Bachmann's husband got $137,000 in Medicaid funds

While Rep. Michelle Bachmann, R-Minn., has forcefully denounced the Medicaid program for swelling the "welfare rolls," the mental health clinic run by her husband has been collecting annual Medicaid payments totaling over $137,000 for the treatment of patients since 2005, according to new figures obtained by NBC News.

The previously unreported payments are on top of the $24,000 in federal and state funds that Bachmann & Associates, the clinic founded by Marcus Bachmann, a clinical therapist, received in recent years under a state grant to train its employees, state records show. The figures were provided to NBC News in response to a Freedom of Information request.

The clinic, based in Lake Elmo, Minn., describes itself on its website as offering "quality Christian counseling" for a large number of mental health problems ranging from "anger management" to addictions and eating disorders.

The $161,000 in payments from the Minnesota Department of Human Services to her husband's clinic appear to contradict some of Michelle Bachmann's public accounts this week when she was first asked about the extent to which her family has benefited from government aid. Contacted this afternoon, Alice Stewart, a spokeswoman for Bachmann, said the congresswoman was doing campaign events and was not immediately available for comment.
Read the rest here.

Sinking G.O.P. Poll Numbers May Put Florida in Play

MIAMI — In the past few weeks, Gov. Rick Scott has traveled around the state extolling the accomplishments of the recent legislative session and promoting his success in pushing Florida down a more conservative, financially sound path.

So why is his approval rating the lowest of any governor in America?

“I don’t think about it,” Mr. Scott said in a brief interview when asked about his 29 percent approval rating in a Quinnipiac University poll conducted in May. More alarming for the governor: his negative rating has soared from 22 percent in February shortly after he entered office to 57 percent, suggesting that the more Floridians get to know him, the less they like him.

Mr. Scott, however, chalks up the numbers to his agenda. “Everybody’s scared about change,” he said. “I’m going to make the tough decisions because I know, long-term, they pay off. But, you know, short-term, everybody is worried about change.”

The promise of wholesale changes appealed to Florida voters, who overlooked Mr. Scott’s lack of experience and propelled him into the Governor’s Mansion last year as a Tea Party darling. But within six months of Mr. Scott’s swearing-in, many Floridians seem to have soured on the governor, an unflinching former health insurance executive whose leadership style strikes some as remote and uncaring.

Mr. Scott’s sinking popularity has Republican politicians and some strategists worried that his troubles could hamper their chances of tilting the state’s 29 electoral votes back into their column in 2012. President Obama won Florida by 2.8 percentage points in 2008.

Republican Senate and House candidates are also worrying, strategists say, that the governor’s rapidly declining popularity will affect their chances of winning election. And in Miami, two Republican candidates for mayor have distanced themselves from the governor.
Read the rest here.

The Orthodox Church As Original Protestants?

If Roman Catholic attacks on the Church, coupled with a long polemical thread starring the usual anti-Orthodox suspects (one in particular) is your cup of tea then go here.  You will be in paradise.  Otherwise you can join me in just saying "no."

Time was when I used to enjoy these sorts of debates-arguments.  I even made a few (fairly weak) contributions of my own if you go back a few years on this blog's archives.  But to be honest, this sort of c--- bores me now.  Maybe it's a lack of charity.  Or maybe I have just grown up enough to realize that all of these endless "we are the Church and you are just a bunch of heretics/schismatics" online flame fests  have less relevance than the ongoing Anglican-Catholic dialogues.  Which is to say none at all.

If you're Catholic and want to be in communion with the Orthodox Church you can get there the same way I did.  If not, that's fine too.  God still loves you and we don't think you need to plan on being buried in an asbestos suit.

As for the usual suspects, I have gotten to where I no longer care if they like us or not.  Moving on.

HT: Owen White

Oil-hungry China welcomes alleged war criminal al-Bashir

BEIJING — If there’s one thing that gets discussed a lot regarding China’s relationship with Sudan, it’s the oil interest.

As the world’s largest energy consumer and one of the fastest-growing economies, China needs oil. Since 1995, it has invested heavily in Sudan’s oil infrastructure via the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC).

“We cannot exaggerate the importance of Sudan oil to the whole of China’s oil input,” said Dr. He Wenping of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Sudan isn't China's leading supplier in Africa; that honor more recently has gone to Angola. But Sudan does supply roughly seven per cent of the mainland's oil needs.

In return, Beijing has provided military support — most visibly in the form of weaponry — to Khartoum.

The oil-for-arms relationship provoked a huge international outcry in relation to the Darfur conflict. Western governments and human rights groups called on China to stop supplying small arms to Sudan (although Russia was just as, if not more, culpable) and to use its leverage with Sudan to end the wholesale mass killings.

But what's more interesting than simply China's oil interests in Sudan is the way in which those interests are affecting Beijing's foreign policy.
Read the rest here.

Obama enters debt talks

President Obama formally entered debt talks Monday with a pair of Oval Office meetings with Senate leaders, hoping that face-to-face talks could set the stage for detailed negotiations seeking more than $2 trillion in federal savings in exchange for continued Treasury borrowing to finance government operations.

With just five weeks to go before the federal government would begin defaulting on some of its debts, Obama hosted Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in separate hour-long meetings.

The leaders remain divided over hundreds of billions of dollars in proposed spending reductions and also the key issue of whether to include increased tax revenue to fill up some of the savings.

While no immediate breakthroughs were reported, the talks were meant to signal Obama’s increased personal involvement in the issue after the dissolution last week of a group led by Vice President Biden and congressional leadership deputies. With anywhere from $500 billion to more than $1 trillion in spending cuts tentatively agreed upon, Obama and the top leaders will now work to iron out the most contentious issues left: tax increases, entitlement spending and Pentagon funding.

“Neither party should confront this crisis alone, and no one will be successful unless we confront it together,” Reid said in a speech on the Senate floor after his late-morning sit-down with the president. Reid wants a deal that would include new investments to jump-start job creation and close tax loopholes and subsidies that benefit the wealthy.
Read the rest here.

EU Warns Greece ' No Austerity Means Default'

ATHENS/BRUSSELS — The European Union warned Greek lawmakers on Tuesday their country faced immediate default unless they approve a hated austerity plan, as strikers began new mass protests against the EU/IMF-imposed measures.

With the Greek parliament debating a raft of spending cuts, tax rises and privatizations, the EU's top economic official, Olli Rehn, dismissed reports that Brussels was working on fallback options to keep Greece afloat if the plan was rejected.

"The only way to avoid immediate default is for parliament to endorse the revised economic program ... They must be approved if the next tranche of financial assistance is to be released," he said in a statement.

"To those who speculate about other options, let me say this clearly: there is no Plan B to avoid default," Rehn said.
Read the rest here.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Cardinal Policarpo: 'No fundamental obstacle to the ordination of women'

Read the story at Rorate Caeli.

Liturgy for the Feast of All Saints

From Bryansk Liturgy for the Feast of All Saints served on the site of a monastic church destroyed by the Communists in 1930.

International court issues Gaddafi arrest warrant

NEW YORK — Judges from the International Criminal Court on Monday issued a warrant for the arrest of Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi, his son and a top military intelligence chief, calling for them to to stand trial for crimes against humanity in connection with a violent crackdown on anti-government protesters this year.

The three-judge pretrial chamber ruled that ICC Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo had established “reasonable grounds” to charge Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi and Abdullah al-Senussi, the chief of military intelligence, with the murder and persecution of hundreds of Libyan civilians since the government began suppressing public protests Feb. 15.


In issuing the ruling, Judge Sanji Mmasenono Monageng said there was sufficient evidence to believe that the three Libyans “have committed the crimes alleged by the prosecutor” and that “their arrest appears necessary” to ensure they appear before the Hague-based court and to prevent them from continuing further crimes against the Libyan population.
Read the rest here.

Wall Street rises amid encouraging signs from Europe

NEW YORK — Signs that a widespread European debt crisis could be averted helped send stocks up sharply Monday.

French banks agreed to accept slower repayment of Greece's debt. That would give Greece more time to meet its other immediate financial obligations. French bondholders hold about $21.3 billion in Greek government debt. Greek lawmakers are also debating austerity measures that must pass before the country can receive another financial rescue package to help avoid default.

The U.S. government, meanwhile, said that spending by consumers decreased in May, after adjusting for inflation. April's figures were also revised downward, revealing the first decline since January 2010. Consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of economic activity.

Gas prices nearing $4 per gallon in late April and early May curtailed spending on retail goods such as televisions and clothes. Since then, gas prices have fallen to a national average of $3.57 per gallon. Oil prices have declined steeply over the last few weeks, which should eventually translate into even lower pump prices. Lower gas prices could help boost consumer spending in other areas in the coming months.
Read the rest here.

Illinois: Blagojevich guilty of corruption

CHICAGO — A jury has found former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich guilty on 17 corruption-related charges, including trying to sell or trade President Barack Obama's old Senate seat.

Blagojevich had faced 20 charges, including the Senate seat allegation and that he schemed to shake down executives for campaign donations. He was convicted on all charges regarding the Senate seat.

The jurors delivered their verdicts Monday after deliberating nine days.

Blagojevich testified for seven days, denying wrongdoing.
Read the rest here.

Thank You

To the many people who posted or emailed me regarding my Godson Basil (see preceding post).  Your prayers are deeply appreciated by everyone concerned.  I am now on the right coast dealing with family issues here.  The latest word I have on Basil is what Bill (my Godfather) posted on Saturday.  For those who missed his comment, it now appears that in addition to all of the  injuries I listed he also has a cracked vertebra in the neck and a fractured wrist.  There is no danger of paralysis, but Basil is going to be a long time healing.  The metal in his leg will probably take some getting used to.  Also we have no word on the driver of the other vehicle who bolted from the scene.  Forgive my uncharitable presumptions, but I would not be surprised if he is safely back in Mexico by now.

I will post any new developments when I get the news.  Thank you all again for your prayers.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Prayers Requested

I have just returned from the hospital visiting my Godson Basil who was in a very serious car wreck earlier today in Merced.  After the fire-rescue got him out of his vehicle using the "jaws of life" he was flown by helicopter to the regional trauma center here in Modesto.  According to his mom he has a severely broken leg, four broken ribs and bruised liver and lungs.  They will be operating on his leg tomorrow.  Needless to say he is in great pain.

Fr. David rushed up from Merced and following prayers for the sick and injured Basil took confession.  He was not able to commune for medical reasons.

By the mercy of God his injuries, as grave as they are, are not seen as immediately life threatening and he is expected to recover.  But that process is likely to be long and painful.  In addition to the terrible injuries I am fairly certain Basil has no medical insurance.

Your prayers for my Godson are coveted and deeply appreciated.

There is of course never a "good time" for this sort of thing to happen.  But  it comes in my case on the eve of a trip back East to deal with serious ongoing family issues.  Rarely if ever have I traveled while so conflicted in matters of duty.

Blogging will be sporadic until Monday.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Budget talks near collapse as GOP leader quits

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor pulled out of debt-reduction talks with the White House on Thursday, saying the effort has reached an impasse over taxes that can be resolved only by President Obama and House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio).

In a statement, Cantor (R-Va.) said he remains optimistic about the talks, led by Vice President Biden, which have “identified trillions in spending cuts” and “established a blueprint that could institute the fiscal reforms needed to start getting our fiscal house in order.”

However, a three-hour bargaining session Wednesday was highly contentious and failed to make headway, as Democrats pressed repeatedly for Republicans to accept provisions to raise taxes, according to participants in the talks.
Read the rest here.

Free to Search and Seize

THIS spring was a rough season for the Fourth Amendment. The Obama administration petitioned the Supreme Court to allow GPS tracking of vehicles without judicial permission. The Supreme Court ruled that the police could break into a house without a search warrant if, after knocking and announcing themselves, they heard what sounded like evidence being destroyed. Then it refused to see a Fourth Amendment violation where a citizen was jailed for 16 days on the false pretext that he was being held as a material witness to a crime.

In addition, Congress renewed Patriot Act provisions on enhanced surveillance powers until 2015, and the F.B.I. expanded agents’ authority to comb databases, follow people and rummage through their trash even if they are not suspected of a crime.

None of these are landmark decisions. But together they further erode the privilege of privacy that was championed by Congress and the courts in the mid-to-late-20th century, when the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement was applied to the states, unconstitutionally seized evidence was ruled inadmissible in state trials, and privacy laws were enacted following revelations in the 1970s of domestic spying on antiwar and civil rights groups.

For over a decade now, the government has tried to make us more secure by chipping away at the one provision of the Bill of Rights that pivots on the word “secure” — the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee of “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

The founding fathers, who sought security from government, would probably reject today’s conventional wisdom that liberty and security are at odds, and that one must be sacrificed for the other. In their experience, the chief threat to individual security came from government itself, as in the house-to-house searches conducted by British customs officers under blanket “writs of assistance.” After the Boston lawyer James Otis Jr. eloquently challenged the writs in 1761, John Adams, who was present in the crowded courtroom, wrote of the audience’s rage, “Then and there the child independence was born.”

Independent America’s answer to those searches was the Fourth Amendment, with its requirement that law enforcement have probable cause to believe that evidence of a crime can be found at a particular place and time before a judge issues a warrant.

The ingenious feature of this demand is that it makes criminal investigations more efficient and accurate, even as it preserves liberty. If that rule and others in the Bill of Rights are followed, the police waste less time chasing false leads, make fewer erroneous arrests and leave the community safer.

In other words, the framers handed down a system in which liberty and security were fused, one inseparable from the other. So it is hard to see how safety has been enhanced by the post-9/11 expansion of counterterrorism surveillance, which has uncovered hardly any known plots and instead burdens analysts with so much irrelevant noise that they have trouble hearing the ominous melodies.

A recent study by the Breakthrough Institute found only two cases that benefited from the secret warrants made easier by the Patriot Act. The rest, the report concluded, “were broken open due to the combination of well-deployed undercover agents, information from citizen or undercover informants and tips from foreign intelligence agencies.” The two exceptions were the Portland Seven, Oregon Muslims who tried to travel to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban in 2001, and Najibullah Zazi, a Colorado resident from Afghanistan who pleaded guilty last year to planning a suicide attack in the New York City subways.

Two successes in nearly a decade might be enough to satisfy a fearful public, but it is worth noting that both cases began with old-fashioned tips — the first from a landlord, the second from Pakistani intelligence linking Mr. Zazi to Al Qaeda — and could have been pursued with the law enforcement tools available before 9/11.

The false dichotomy of liberty versus security is accompanied by another myth: that someone else’s rights are always the ones at risk, that I can give up their rights for my safety. It seems a comfortable bargain. The terrorist is covertly monitored, the drug dealer is searched and the upstanding citizen is protected.

But it does not always work that way. The constitutional system of case law and precedent applies rulings on rights universally. So, legally, if a black man in a poor neighborhood can be stopped and frisked with minimal reason, so can a white woman in a rich neighborhood — even if the police tactics differ.

American history is replete with assaults on liberties that first target foreigners, minorities and those on the political margins, then spread toward the mainstream. The 1917 Espionage Act, for example, was used to prosecute American labor leaders and other critics of the government, and the 1798 Alien Enemies Act was revived after Pearl Harbor to intern American citizens of Japanese ancestry. A similar process is taking place now, as the F.B.I. has begun using counterterrorism tools to search, infiltrate and investigate groups of American peace activists and labor leaders in the Midwest.

The Fourth Amendment is weaker than it was 50 years ago, and this should worry everyone. “Uncontrolled search and seizure is one of the first and most effective weapons in the arsenal of every arbitrary government,” Justice Robert H. Jackson, the former chief United States prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, wrote in 1949. “Among deprivations of rights, none is so effective in cowing a population, crushing the spirit of the individual and putting terror in every heart.”

For the record, I don't have a problem with cops preventing someone from destroying evidence. That strikes me as a reasonable and common sense exception to the 4th amendment, provided that there is good reason to believe it is occurring at that moment on the other side of a door.  Beyond that narrow exception though, I concur that recent jurisprudence on privacy and civil rights is indeed chilling.  And the Patriot Act is one of the greatest abominations since the Sedition Acts.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Feds look for new ways to lie to us

WASHINGTON -(Dow Jones)- Lawmakers are considering changing how the Consumer Price Index is calculated, a move that could save perhaps $220 billion and represent significant progress in the ongoing federal debt ceiling and deficit reduction talks.

According to congressional aides familiar with the discussions, the proposal would shift how the Consumer Price Index is calculated to reflect how people tend to change spending patterns when prices increase. For example, consumers tend to drive less when gas prices increase dramatically.

Such a move is widely seen by economists as resulting in a slower rise in inflation. That would impact an array of federal programs that are linked to CPI including the Social Security program and income tax brackets set by the federal government.

The proposal could lower federal spending by around $220 billion over the next decade, based on calculations by last year's White House deficit commission, which recommended the change as part of its final report.

According to two congressional aides familiar with the budget negotiations, the shift is being "seriously discussed" as part of the ongoing talks to strike a budget deal, that would be used to ease the passage of a required increase in the country's debt limit.
Read the rest here.

Here we go again.  How many ways can Washington Pols lie to us and rob us at the same time?  The current methodology is already wildly inaccurate in its measurement of inflation.  (It has been changed several times since Jimmy Carter's tenure in order to lower inflation numbers.)  This is just more of the same financial repression and cooking of the books that Washington tries whenever the red ink gets a bit too thick.  They are printing money at record rates and now they want to hide the inflation they are creating while stiffing people to whom they promised benefits that would be indexed to inflation.  Most of those people would of course be the old and the very poor.

One group of people that will also get robbed will be those poor saps who were/are dumb enough to buy TIPS (Treasury Inflation Protected Securities).  Those are government bonds that are supposed to protect the holder from inflation.  You can kiss that money good-bye.

Yes ladies and gentlemen, Washington DC is inhabited by a pack of low life lying scoundrels.  But they are our low life lying scoundrels and we love them.  After all we keep electing the bums. 

P.S.  I had to rewrite that last paragraph about 5 times before I got it clean enough to post on a Christian blog.

George Will: McCain’s never-ending war

Elevating the fallacy of the false alternative to a foreign policy, John McCain and a few others believe Republicans who oppose U.S. intervention in Libya’s civil war — and who think a decade of warfare in Afghanistan is enough — are isolationists. This is less a thought than a flight from thinking, which involves making sensible distinctions.

Last Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” McCain warned that the GOP has always had “an isolation strain.” He calls it “the Pat Buchanan wing,” which he contrasts with “the Republican Party that has been willing to stand up for freedom for people all over the world.” Rather a lot turns on the meaning of “stand up for.”

Between wishing success to people fighting for freedom and sending in the Marines (or the drones), there is as much middle ground for temperate people as there is between Buchanan, a sort of come-home-America conservative, and McCain, a promiscuous interventionist. When asked his response to those, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who say there was no vital U.S. interest at stake when the Libya intervention began, McCain said: “Our interests are our values” and “our values are that we don’t want people needlessly slaughtered by the thousands,” as Moammar Gaddafi seemed to threaten to do, “if we can prevent such activity.” Under the McCain Doctrine, America’s military would have just begun to fight, and would never stop.
Read the rest here.

Quote of the day...

"You thought about eternity for twenty-five minutes and think you've come to some interesting conclusions..."

From Bad Vicar.
Caution: Irreverent humor. If it's not your cup of tea, just move on.

HT: Crescat

Marine Honored For Bravery Proposes to Girlfriend at the Palace

A Royal Marine who was being honoured for his bravery by the Prince of Wales today took the chance to propose to his girlfriend at Buckingham Palace.

Marine Mark Jackson went down on one knee in the grand ballroom of the Queen's home to ask Rebecca Daniel to be his wife shortly after the ceremony in which he collected his Conspicuous Gallantry Cross.

He was being honoured for his heroic actions in Afghanistan after picking up and throwing back an insurgent's grenade and lying on a comrade to shield him from the blast.
Read the rest here.

Very classy. Many years to them both!

Republicans divided on defense cuts

Republicans may want voters to forget about the legacy of George W. Bush, especially when it comes to foreign policy. But the ideological conflicts faced by the former president are resurfacing in Afghanistan as Republicans weigh military commitments abroad against spending cuts at home.

Bush warned during the 2000 campaign against “using our troops as nation-builders.” Criticizing Bill Clinton's military interventions in Kosovo and elsewhere, he said “the role of the military is to fight and win wars” and thus prevent future wars — not to help govern rural provinces and spend billions tutoring Third World nations into becoming 21st century democracies.

The Sept. 11 attacks changed all that, of course, but now, 11 years after Bush first voiced that skepticism, many Republicans have lost patience with nation-building. And it's happening against the backdrop of President Barack Obama's announcement of a drawdown timeline for U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

On NBC's TODAY on Wednesday, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, the latest Republican to join the presidential race, said, "What we need now is a healthy dose of nation-building here at home."

Since the Vietnam War, the Republican Party — with a few exceptions — has defined itself as the one calling for bigger military budgets and making an unapologetic defense of American interests around the world.

But Afghanistan has put Republican deficit cutters at odds with the party’s advocates of a robust military.
Read the rest here.

CBO warns US facing debt crisis

A rising level of debt, combined with an excess of spending over revenue “would increase the probability of a fiscal crisis for the United States,” the nonpartisan agency said, repeating a warning it made last July.

“In such a crisis, investors become unwilling to finance all of a government’s borrowing needs unless they are compensated with very high interest rates,” the CBO said, adding that “there is no way to predict with any confidence whether and when such a crisis might occur in the United States.”

But it said, “All else being equal, however, the larger the debt, the greater the risk of such a crisis.”
Read the rest here.

On this date...

 (click to enlarge)

In 1893 HMS Victoria, the flagship of the British Mediterranean Fleet, was rammed and sunk by HMS Camperdown during fleet exercises.  The accident claimed the lives of 358 men including the fleet commander Sir George Tryon who was later blamed for the disaster.  The loss of the Victoria stunned Victorian Britain and remains the worst peacetime catastrophe in modern Royal Navy history.

In 1941 Nazi Germany invaded the USSR inaugurating on of the bloodiest wars in history.  Most historians agree that this was a fatal error on the part of Adolf Hitler which resulted in Germany losing the Second World War.

In 2009 the Eastman Kodak company announced it was ending its production of Kodachrome color film, ending its 74 year run as a photography icon.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Many Years

To Benjamin J. Anderson (formerly of the Occidentalis blog) who took vows as a Benedictine Novice Monk on Saturday June 18th. Obviously as an Orthodox Christian I take no joy in reporting that a member of the Church has left for another confession. But I wish him well in his monastic vocation.

HT: Owen White

Wow

A Republican candidate for president who publicly says he is not overly religious.  That kind of breathtaking honesty alone seems to demand a serious look at the  man.  I'm not saying being irreligious is a good thing.  But I'm about done with people running for high office trying to out Christian each other.  Time was when religion was understood to be an essentially private matter.  Dwight Eisenhower (one of my favorite modern presidents) didn't even bother getting baptized until after he was elected president.

Memo to the GOP.  We are electing a president, not a patriarch or church elder.

Kerry, McCain push Libya authorization measure

WASHINGTON — Two top senators on Tuesday unveiled a resolution giving President Barack Obama limited authority in the three-month-old war against Libya, warning that the drastic step of cutting off funds for the military operation would be a lifeline to a weakened Moammar Gadhafi.

Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass., and John McCain of Arizona, the leading Republican on the Armed Services Committee, introduced the bipartisan resolution that would allow the mission to continue but would impose a one-year limit on the NATO-led operation, a period McCain said is "more than enough time to finish the job." It also would prohibit American ground forces in Libya.

The measure is a clear counter to efforts in the House to prohibit spending and effectively end the operation, a reflection of the growing Republican and Democratic anger toward Obama and his treatment of Congress. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said lawmakers will consider measures to cut off funds.

"Our members are very frustrated over the president's actions, his lack of positing a clear mission and vision for our involvement in Libya," Cantor told reporters. "Members have not seen the reasons why or why not the president thinks we're involved in hostilities."
Read the rest here.

Don't worry.  This will end soon enough.  The Empire is broke and its military is overextended.   Contrary to popular opinion the United States is not immune to the basic laws of both economics and geo-politics.  We are not God's chosen nation.  We are, like most great empires, an accident of history. And just like those that went before us we are bleeping it up.

If we are lucky our demotion to the status of a 2nd rate power will not be too painful.  But I would not lay odds on that.

Gingrich top fund raisers quit

Two top fundraisers for Newt Gingrich have quit, the latest in a series of staff departures that have badly hamstrung the former House Speaker’s 2012 presidential bid.

Fundraising director Jody Thomas and fundraising consultant Mary Heitman have both abandoned the campaign, Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond confirmed Tuesday.

Neither Thomas nor Heitman returned an e-mail seeking comment on their departure.

Their resignations come less than two weeks after more than a dozen staffers — including the campaign manager, chief strategist and key operatives in states like Iowa and South Carolina — departed en masse.
Read the rest here.

Memo to Newt...

EU urged to block Greece bail-out

European leaders have been urged to scrap plans for a second Greek bail-out – regardless of how Athens' politicians vote on the country's tough austerity measures.

Leading London-based think tank Open Europe has claimed that a fresh bail-out, expected to be around €120bn (£106bn), will almost triple taxpayers' existing exposure to Greek debt.

"Despite a second Greek bail-out being EU leaders' preferred option, it is only likely to increase the economic and political cost of the eurozone crisis," said Open Europe in a report.

The warning came ahead of a crucial vote of confidence in the Greek government. The vote, which was set for midnight on Tuesday night, came at the end of a three-day debate on George Papandreou's unpopular package of spending cuts and asset sales, which face another vote on June 28. The prime minister has just a six seat majority in the 300-member parliament.

On Sunday, European leaders said they would not release the next €12bn tranche of international aid unless Greece passes the measures. Without the cash injection, which is the fifth instalment from the €110bn international bail-out package agreed last May, Greece will run out of money in mid-July. A failure to pass the measures is also likely to scupper plans for a second bail-out.
Read the rest here.

Britain: 'More QE could be needed'

Britain's economic recovery remains fragile and more quantitative easing could yet be needed if deflation becomes a risk, BoE (Bank of England) policymaker Paul Fisher said on Tuesday.

Speaking a day ahead of the release of minutes from the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee’s June meeting, Mr Fisher said, "If we get stuck in a deflationary rut it's not clear we have sufficient ability to get out of that quickly.

"I've said in the past it [QE] is still very much on the table as one of our potential policy actions, and it's certainly not ruled out and people need to be aware of that."
Read the rest here.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Breakaway Wealth: Why the very rich are pulling away from the rest of America

It was the 1970s, and the chief executive of a leading U.S. dairy company, Kenneth J. Douglas, lived the good life. He earned the equivalent of about $1 million today. He and his family moved from a three-bedroom home to a four-bedroom home, about a half-mile away, in River Forest, Ill., an upscale Chicago suburb. He joined a country club. The company gave him a Cadillac. The money was good enough, in fact, that he sometimes turned down raises. He said making too much was bad for morale.

Forty years later, the trappings at the top of Dean Foods, as at most U.S. big companies, are more lavish. The current chief executive, Gregg L. Engles, averages 10 times as much in compensation as Douglas did, or about $10 million in a typical year. He owns a $6 million home in an elite suburb of Dallas and 64 acres near Vail, Colo., an area he frequently visits. He belongs to as many as four golf clubs at a time — two in Texas and two in Colorado. While Douglas’s office sat on the second floor of a milk distribution center, Engles’s stylish new headquarters occupies the top nine floors of a 41-story Dallas office tower. When Engles leaves town, he takes the company’s $10 million Challenger 604 jet, which is largely dedicated to his needs, both business and personal.

The evolution of executive grandeur — from very comfortable to jet-setting — reflects one of the primary reasons that the gap between those with the highest incomes and everyone else is widening.

For years, statistics have depicted growing income disparity in the United States, and it has reached levels not seen since the Great Depression. In 2008, the last year for which data are available, for example, the top 0.1 percent of earners took in more than 10 percent of the personal income in the United States, including capital gains, and the top 1 percent took in more than 20 percent. But economists had little idea who these people were. How many were Wall street financiers? Sports stars? Entrepreneurs? Economists could only speculate, and debates over what is fair stalled.

Now a mounting body of economic research indicates that the rise in pay for company executives is a critical feature in the widening income gap.
Read the rest here.

Why Europe no longer matters

When Defense Secretary Robert Gates devoted his final policy speech this month to berating NATO and our European allies, he was engaging in a time-honored tradition: Americans have worried about Europeans shirking their share of global burdens since the start of the 60-year-old alliance.

Gates sounded a pessimistic note, warning of “the real possibility for a dim if not dismal future for the transatlantic alliance.” Yet, the outgoing Pentagon chief may not have been pessimistic enough. The U.S.-European partnership that proved so central to managing and winning the Cold War will inevitably play a far diminished role in the years to come. To some extent, we’re already there: If NATO didn’t exist today, would anyone feel compelled to create it? The honest, if awkward, answer is no.
Read the rest here.

RIP: Bill Haast a man with an unusual hobby

Bill Haast figured he had handled more than three million poisonous snakes over the years, and he had the hands to prove it.

An eastern diamondback rattlesnake left one hand looking like a claw. A Malayan pit viper mangled an index finger. A cottonmouth bit a finger, which instantly turned black, prompting his wife to snip off the fingertip with garden clippers.

Mr. Haast was bitten at least 173 times by poisonous snakes, about 20 times almost fatally. It was all in a day’s work for probably the best-known snake handler in the country, a scientist-cum-showman who made enough money from milking toxic goo from slithery serpents to buy a cherry-red Rolls-Royce convertible.
Read the rest here.

Five myths about Americans in prison

No country on Earth imprisons more people per capita than the United States. But for America, mass incarceration has proved a losing proposition. The Supreme Court recently found California’s overcrowded prisons unconstitutional, and state legislators want to cut the vast amounts of public money spent on prison warehousing.

Why are so many Americans in prison, and which ones can be safely released? Let’s address some common misunderstandings about our incarceration problem.
Read the rest here.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

RT News Video on Holy Trinity Church in Antarctica

Help

If there are any bilingual (Russian-English) readers of this blog who have some free time, I would greatly appreciate a translation of two Russian articles brought to my attention by Carlos A Palad.  One deals with Church Slavonic in the 21st century and the other with the correction of liturgical books.  Thanks for any help.

The Vigilante: Why the man who runs the world's largest mutual fund sold all his Treasury bonds

In February 1993, as the fledgling Clinton administration grappled with the nation’s budget woes, campaign adviser James Carville groused to The Wall Street Journal: “I used to think if there was reincarnation, I wanted to come back as the president or the pope or a .400 baseball hitter. But now I want to come back as the bond market. You can intimidate everyone.” If Carville were serving in the Obama administration today, he’d be seeking reincarnation as Bill Gross. The founder and co–chief investment officer of PIMCO, Gross runs his firm’s Total Return Fund—the world’s largest mutual fund, with holdings entirely in bonds. And for some time, he has been an outspoken critic of U.S. economic policy.

Gross demurred when I suggested that James Carville might want to be him. “I thought the remark was striking at the time,” he said, “but no, I didn’t feel that they were catering to us at every turn.”

But Democrats wrestling with the legacy of Ronald Reagan’s deficits resented the influence of what the analyst Ed Yardeni had dubbed “the bond vigilantes”: the investors who enforce fiscal and monetary discipline when governments won’t. If your political system inflates its currency, or fails to align its spending with its tax revenues, the bond vigilantes will raise your interest rates until you either get it together … or catapult into a crisis.

In the 1990s, we chose to get it together; thanks to tax hikes under both Bush I and Clinton, and a massive influx of capital-gains-tax revenue from the stock-market bubble, we even enjoyed a brief surplus. The bond vigilantes retreated over the horizon. But now deficits are back—and bigger than ever. In 2010, the United States spent $1.3 trillion more than it took in.

This year, the Congressional Budget Office expects us to borrow another $1.5 trillion. In just two years, we will have borrowed almost 20 percent of gross domestic product, or more than $9,000 for every person in the United States. But we won’t be borrowing it from Bill Gross. For some time, he’d been selling his Treasury holdings, and by early March, he had reportedly dumped all of them. Then in mid-April, Gross upped the ante by placing bets against U.S. bonds in the market, a move that pushed the Total Return Fund’s holdings of U.S. debt to the equivalent of minus 3 percent. If the bond vigilantes really are getting the gang back together, then the size of Gross’s funds—and his recent divestment—would seem to make him their leader. With economists and politicians warning about the dire consequences of out-of-control deficits, it seemed like a good time to sit down and ask Gross how dire the situation was. Is the United States really heading for an epic showdown with the debt markets? And if it comes, how badly will we be hurt?
Read the rest here

Jim Sinclair on why men own dogs

Why Men Have Dogs:

1. The later you are, the more excited your dogs are to see you.
2. Dogs don’t notice if you call them by another dog’s name.
3. Dogs like it if you leave a lot of things on the floor.
4. A dog’s parents never visit.
5. Dogs agree that you have to raise your voice to get your point across.
6. You never have to wait for a dog; they’re ready to go 24 hours a day.
7. Dogs like to go hunting and fishing.
8. A dog will not wake you up at night to ask, "If I died, would you get another dog?"
9. If a dog has babies, you can put an ad in the paper and give them away.
10. A dog will let you put a studded collar on it without calling you a pervert.
11. If a dog smells another dog on you, they don’t get mad. They just think it’s interesting.
13.. Dogs like to ride in the back of a pickup truck.

And last, but not least:

14.. If a dog leaves, it won’t take half of your stuff.

Q&A for the Western Rite Vicar of ROCOR

There has been a lot of understandable curiosity resulting from the recent reception by Fr. Kimel into the Orthodox Church.  Fr. Anthony, the Western Rite Vicar for the Russian Church Abroad, has popped in over at Vivificat on the discussion thread relating to Fr. Kimel's conversion and ordination.  He has very kindly offered to take questions.  I don't want to overstate things, but I personally have no recollection of a priest of the Russian Church Abroad going onto a conservative Roman Catholic blog to do a Q&A.  Which is to say I think this is both unusual and very gracious on the part of all concerned.

On a side note I have closed the comments on the previous related thread here at A/O.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Navy setting record for senior officers sacked

The Navy has fired a dozen commanding officers this year, a near-record rate, with the bulk getting the ax for offenses related to sex, alcohol or other forms of personal misconduct.

The terminations, which follow a similar spike in firings last year, have shaken the upper ranks of the Navy, which has long invested enormous responsibility in its commanding officers and prides itself on a tradition of carefully cultivating captains and admirals.


Over the past 18 months, the Navy has sacked nine commanding officers for sexual harassment or inappropriate personal relationships. Three others were fired for alcohol-related offenses, and two on unspecified charges of personal misconduct. Combined, they account for roughly half of the 29 commanding officers relieved during that period.
Read the rest here

Is she...

A) Attending the Royal Ascot Horse Race?

 or...

B) About to pass through a TSA checkpoint at her local airport?

Germany caves on Greek (bank) bailout

More free money from European taxpayers to banks that made bad business investments.
BERLIN – German Chancellor Angela Merkel backed down Friday from insisting that private investors be made to shoulder part of any further bailout for Greece, easing fears of an imminent Greek default but raising the possibility that she could face rebellion at home.

The announcement, made after a two-hour-long meeting in Germany’s capital with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, appeared aimed at allaying investor fears that Europe would not be able to agree on a new financial lifeline for Greece, forcing it to default on its $420 billion debt.


Germany dropped its insistence that private investors wait for Greece’s economy to recover before being repaid. The agreement appeared to end a weeks-long standoff over how generous to be toward private investors, pitting Germany on one side and France, the European Central Bank and much of Europe on the other
Read the rest here.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Armenian, Georgian Church Leaders Reach Impasse

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—The spiritual leaders of Armenia and Georgia have failed to reach any concrete agreements on disputes between their state-backed churches after nearly one week of negotiations held during Catholicos Karekin II’s visit to Georgia.

The supreme head of the Armenian Apostolic Church and Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II of the Georgian Orthodox Church publicly disagreed on the main sticking points as they wrapped up the talks late on Wednesday.

Karekin II began the trip last Friday in the hope of convincing Georgia’s political and religious leadership to grant an official status to the Georgia Diocese of the Armenian Church and return several churches in and outside Tbilisi to the latter. Karekin II’s office said after his weekend meeting with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili that the Georgian side agreed to register the diocese and pledged to preserve the churches “until their return to the diocese.”

However, no agreements or joint declarations were signed as a result. Speaking to journalists in Georgia’s Javakheti region mostly populated by ethnic Armenians, the two pontiffs said they failed to work out a mutually acceptable document. “I think that we are saying the same things but with different wordings,” said Ilia.
Read the rest here.

Alberta priest charged with fraud relieved of duties

A Ukrainian Orthodox priest from St. Paul, Alta., accused of bringing dozens of Polish workers into Canada under false pretenses and profiting from their labour, has been relieved of his church duties.

Father John Lipinski, 43, his wife Angela, 42, and business partner Calvin Steinhauer, 38, of Goodfish Lake, Alta., are charged under the Immigration Refugee Protection Act.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada confirmed Thursday that Lipinski has stopped working as a priest in St. Paul for the time being. He has not been formally removed from his post.

The archbishop of the church, Metropolitan Yurij Kalistchuk said he's shocked by the allegations.

In a written statement, Lipinski's lawyer Robbie Davidson said Lipinski and his wife "vehemently deny" the allegations and will "vigorously defend" themselves.
Read the rest here.

First Ever 'Atlas of American Orthodox Christian Churches' is Published

The first ever "Atlas of American Orthodox Christian Churches" is published by the Holy Cross Orthodox Press. For detailed information about the Atlas and to look at sample chapters and pages, go to www.orthodoxreality.org.

The Atlas ($ 19.95) is available on www.amazon.com or directly from publisher (www.holycrossbookstore.com, 800-245-0599).

What is this Book about?
The Atlas provides a detailed overview of all Orthodox Christian Churches in the United States: both Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches. It is addressed for the wide - Orthodox and non-Orthodox, academic and non-academic - audiences. Simultaneously, this book is an atlas, a reference book and a thematic monograph. It is an atlas because it contains numerous maps to show the historical development and present patterns of Orthodox Church life in America. It is a thematic monograph because the essays in this book tell the story of the Orthodox Christian past and present in the United States. It is a reference book because it furnishes comprehensive information and statistical data on all American Orthodox Christian Churches.
Read the rest here.

Church fears 'dictatorship' in debt-burdened Greece

The Greek Orthodox Church in Great Britain has spoken of its concerns for Greece as the country struggles to free itself from a crippling debt crisis.

Capital city Athens was rocked by violent protests on Wednesday as Greek riot police took on hundreds of protesters angry over the government’s austerity measures.

After power-sharing talks collapsed yesterday, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou announced he would form a new government and seek a parliamentary vote of confidence in a renewed effort to push through the unpopular austerity package.

Charis Mettis, spokesman for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain, said he was “very worried” about Greece.

“It is a very serious situation,” he told Christian Today. “We hope that Greece won’t be landed with a dictatorship. Something similar happened in 1967, when politicians could not agree and the army moved in.
Read the rest here.

Fla. Man Dies Days After Dogs Tore Off His Arm

A north Florida man who whose arm was torn off in a dog attack has died.

Officials say 74-year-old Roy McSweeney died Wednesday afternoon in a Gainesville Hospital.

Jennifer Biewend, his family's attorney, says McSweeney suffered brain damage from severe blood loss when the dogs tore off one arm and partially removed the other. The dogs -- either pit bulls or pit mixes -- also attacked the man's face. The attack occurred June 10 as the man was doing yard work.

Investigators found that the dogs broke loose from the yard of McSweeney's next-door neighbor, Deanna Blitch. The dogs were taken by officials and euthanized. No charges have been filed, but an investigation continues.
Source.

California: Governor vetoes Democratic budget

Brown announced the veto in a press release Thursday. "Unfortunately, the budget I have received is not a balanced solution," his statement said. "It continues big deficits for years to come and adds billions of dollars of new debt. It also contains legally questionable maneuvers, costly borrowing and unrealistic savings. Finally, it is not financeable and therefore will not allow us to meet our obligations as they occur."
Read the rest here.

Rector of Russian Church in Iceland transfers icon to Catholic Church for the time of his vacations

Reykjavik, June 16, Interfax - Rector of the Russian Church in Iceland priest Timofey Zolotussky before leaving for summer vacations asked the country's Catholic community to look after the icon of the Mother of God.

The procession with cross transferred the revered copy of the Vladimir Icon from the Orthodox St. Nicholas Church to the Cathedral of the Catholic Diocese in Iceland - the Cathedral of Christ the King (Landakotskirkja) Father Timofey told Interfax-Religion on Thursday.

The decision to transfer the icon was taken in order to keep the shrine safe during the break in divine services in the Orthodox Church when the rector is on leave.

It is supposed that the icon will be mainly kept at the Catholic nunnery located not far from the Cathedral at the same street with the Orthodox Church. Divine services of the daily cycle will be conducted before the icon every day.

Land of the Free? New York and California come out at the bottom of individual freedoms study

It might be the ‘Land of the Free’, but some states certainly aren’t living up to the words of America’s national anthem.

New York, New Jersey and California are the least free in the U.S., based on an index of public policies affecting your individual freedoms.

The rankings are based economic, social and personal freedoms of Americans - and include measures such as taxes, government spending and regulations.

But New Hampshire, South Dakota and Indiana are the most free states in the U.S., according to Virginia think tank the Mercatus Center.

New York is by far the least free state and has had ‘the most interstate emigration of any state over the last decade’, the 'Freedom in the 50 States' report said.

The state also has ‘by far the highest taxes in the country’ and ‘only Alaska has more government debt as a percentage of the economy’.

New York’s smoking and gun laws are ‘extremely’ strict, cigarette taxes are the ‘highest in the county’ and ‘motorists are highly regulated’.
Read the rest here.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Church of Sweden Members Unlikely to "Believe in Jesus"

Only 15 percent of members of the Church of Sweden say they believe in Jesus, and an equal number claim to be atheists according to the results of a recent survey.

"It's not very high," Jonas Bromander, an analyst with the Church of Sweden who was responsible for the study, told The Local in reference to the figure.

"It's not really a problem; rather, it’s a byproduct of the secularisation in Swedish society which has taken place over many years."

More than 10,000 members of the Swedish Church participated in a comprehensive membership survey carried out over the past year and dubbed "Member 2010" (Medlem 2010).

According to the survey, 15 percent of church members they are atheists, while a quarter of Swedish Church members identify themselves as agnostic.
Read the rest here.

Greek default fears hit global markets

LONDON — Escalating political turmoil in near-bankrupt Greece intensified concerns Wednesday that the Mediterranean nation may be spiraling toward a calamitous default with investors, potentially igniting a new phase in Europe’s debt crisis.

Global markets shuddered as embattled Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou launched a risky gambit to push his Parliament to pass another round of austerity measures. Failure to pass the cuts could lead the European Union and International Monetary Fund to withhold bailout money, leaving Greece short of cash to pay its creditors as early as next month — an event that some economists warn could destabilize the global financial system.
Read the rest here.

Feast of Blessed Augustine of Hippo

I refer the reader to this excellent post on the great Orthodox St. Augustine of Hippo.

Financial Markets Tank On Greek Worries

NEW YORK — Stocks fell sharply Wednesday, giving up all of their gains from the day before, as investors became increasingly concerned about the worsening debt crisis in Greece.

The dollar rose against the euro and U.S. government bond prices climbed as investors sought out safer assets. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, fell below 3 percent.

A report on manufacturing in the New York area also came in far below forecasts. That reignited fears that factory production, one of the few bright spots in the U.S. economy, may be weaker than many economists had believed.

The new jitters about Greece and what it might mean for the global financial system wiped out optimism from the day before, when stock indexes posted their biggest gains so far in June on better-than-expected retail sales.

"It's sell and ask questions later," said Steven Goldman, chief market strategist at Weeden & Co. in Greenwich, Connecticut.
Read the rest here.

US inflation highest since 2008

Inflation in the US rose to a two-and-a-half year high, as economists warned against "tremendous complacency" over the country's climbing prices.

Official data showed prices rose 3.6pc in the year to May, the biggest leap seen since October 2008, as an easing in fuel prices last month was offset by rising food bills.

Economists were more concerned that the "core" measure of inflation, stripping out the volatile elements of energy and food, jumped 0.3pc on the previous month.

This was the biggest monthly gain in five years when comparing the unrounded data, according to Capital Economics.

The steady rise seen in core prices in recent months suggests the US could be in for a nasty surprise after two decades of growth without an inflation problem, said economists at Legal & General Investment Management (LGIM), the insurance giant's fund division.
Read the rest here.

See here for the true inflation figures.

War Powers Act Does Not Apply to Libya, Obama Argues

WASHINGTON — The White House is telling Congress that President Obama has the legal authority to continue American participation in the NATO-led air war in Libya, even though lawmakers have not authorized it.

In a broader package of materials the Obama administration is sending to Congress on Wednesday defending its Libya policy, the White House, for the first time, offers lawmakers and the public an argument for why Mr. Obama has not been violating the War Powers Resolution since May 20.

On that day, the Vietnam-era law’s 60-day deadline for terminating unauthorized hostilities appeared to pass. But the White House argued that the activities of United States military forces in Libya do not amount to full-blown “hostilities” at the level necessary to involve the section of the War Powers Resolution that imposes the deadline.

“We are acting lawfully,” said Harold Koh, the State Department legal adviser, who expanded on the administration’s reasoning in a joint interview with White House Counsel Robert Bauer.

The two senior administration lawyers contended that American forces have not been in “hostilities” at least since April 7, when NATO took over leadership in maintaining a no-flight zone in Libya, and the United States took up what is mainly a supporting role — providing surveillance and refueling for allied warplanes — although unmanned drones operated by the United States periodically fire missiles as well.
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Ancient Relic Feared Stolen

LONG BEACH, Calif. — When missing something, devout Catholics often turn to St. Anthony of Padua, the patron saint of lost objects. Now, parishioners here are turning to him to pray for the return of his own relic.

A 780-year-old relic of the saint disappeared on Monday morning, less than 48 hours after the Rev. Jose Magaña displayed it at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church as a way to reinspire parishioners.

“Many people here have lost a lot in this economy, and I thought, why not have them pray to St. Anthony?” Father Magaña said.

So when he rose to deliver his sermon on Sunday, he told his parishioners that St. Anthony could do more than help them find their lost car keys and wallet. “He can restore your faith in God, your trust in the system, in yourself,” he said to them.

When he finished, hundreds of worshipers lined up to pray before the relic, which was housed in an ornate gold reliquary, about 16 inches high, with angel-shaped handles. Father Magaña reminded them that they could not touch it, and a few ushers stood guard at the glass case that held the reliquary.

The police have told Father Magaña not to say exactly what the relic is; typically relics are body parts or clothes of a saint.

Merely seeing the relic is special — it has not been on view since the 100th anniversary of the parish in 2002. Father Magaña said there was no record of when it was displayed before then. The parish received the relic from the Vatican shortly after the parish was created, he said.

The police said they were searching for a woman who had been at each of the five Masses on Sunday and was unusually aggressive in trying to see or touch the object.

Father Magaña said he last saw the relic just after 7 a.m. Monday, roughly an hour after the church opened. A few worshipers had begun coming in and out, as they often do on weekday mornings.

At 9 a.m., Father Magaña was saying Mass on the anniversary of the saint’s death and began invoking St. Anthony’s name when he glanced over and noticed that the glass case was empty. The congregation gasped. Father Magaña briefly considered stopping the Mass, but continued, calling the police after the service.

News of the missing relic has spread among the congregation, Father Magaña said, with many parishioners in tears as they called him. He also cried yesterday, he said, blaming himself.

“There was a real sense of despair and I thought, ‘I didn’t take care of this,’ ” he said. “But I got up this morning and went back to the basics — God will provide. I cannot be angry.”

Then, he added: “I think this is divine providence asking us, ‘Where is your faith?’ Is it on the relic or is on God alone?”
Source.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Pakistan arrests C.I.A. informants in bin Laden raid

WASHINGTON — Pakistan’s top military spy agency has arrested some of the Pakistani informants who fed information to the Central Intelligence Agency in the months leading up to the raid that led to the death of Osama bin Laden, according to American officials.

Pakistan’s detention of five C.I.A. informants, including a Pakistani Army major who officials said copied the license plates of cars visiting Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in the weeks before the raid, is the latest evidence of the fractured relationship between the United States and Pakistan. It comes at a time when the Obama administration is seeking Pakistan’s support in brokering an endgame in the war in neighboring Afghanistan.

At a closed briefing last week, members of the Senate Intelligence Committee asked Michael J. Morell, the deputy C.I.A. director, to rate Pakistan’s cooperation with the United States on counterterrorism operations, on a scale of 1 to 10.

“Three,” Mr. Morell replied, according to officials familiar with the exchange.
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Collective Bargaining Law Upheld in Wisconsin

The Wisconsin Supreme Court cleared the way on Tuesday for significant cuts to collective bargaining rights for public workers in the state, undoing a lower court’s decision that Wisconsin’s controversial law had been passed improperly.

The Supreme Court’s ruling, issued at the close of the business day, spared lawmakers in the Republican-dominated Capitol from having to do what some of them strongly hoped to avoid: calling for a new vote on the polarizing collective bargaining measure, which had drawn tens of thousands of protesters to Madison this year and led Democratic lawmakers to flee the city in an effort to block the bill.

Republican leaders had warned on Monday that if the Supreme Court did not rule by Tuesday, they would feel compelled to attach the same measure to the state’s budget bill, which is expected to be approved this week.

The decision ended, at least for now, lingering questions about when and whether the cuts would take effect, but it also underscored the state’s partisan divide, which seems to grow wider by the day. The ruling was 4 to 3, split along what many viewed as the court’s predictable conservative-liberal line. One of the dissenting justices even raised the specter of a “partisan slant” by the other side.
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An Open Letter to Orthodox Anglicans

Some Historical Trivia

234 years ago the gentlemen of Tipperary, Galway, Mayo, Sligo and Roscommon meeting at the Clonmel Summer Assizes adopted a set of rules governing the conduct of "affairs of honour" between gentlemen in Ireland.  These rules, often referred to as "The Twenty-Six Commandments," gained wide acceptance both within and outside of Ireland and became the basis for most recognized dueling codes.

150 years ago the first Flag Day was observed.

45 years ago the Roman Catholic Church abolished the Index Librorum Prohibitorum

When the Rounds Were Ammo

The soldiers arrived in the dead of night, packed shoulder to shoulder in trucks with canvas walls that obscured the route to a secret destination. They were the first World War II recruits for a new covert operation called the Office of Strategic Services, a long, vague name that hid what the soldiers would become: spies, saboteurs, commandos and undercover agents.

The troops were unloaded at a large, bland tent city.

“It was six of us to a tent with a potbelly stove in the middle,” said the O.S.S. veteran Caesar Civitella, describing the night in 1943. “We had been sworn to complete secrecy. They told us to go to sleep, so we went to sleep.”

When the soldiers emerged from their tents in the morning, they turned to glimpse a palace beside the campsite, an immense Mediterranean-inspired clubhouse overlooking a Shangri-La — the rolling hills and golf holes of Congressional Country Club, site of this week’s 111th United States Open.

During World War II, the club’s more than 400 acres about 12 miles outside Washington had been leased to the United States government to serve as the training ground for America’s first intelligence agency, the forerunner to the C.I.A. and American Special Forces.

“We came out of the tent and thought, ‘Hey, country club living,’ ” Civitella said. “But we were wrong; it was no country club life.”

In fact, another O.S.S. veteran, Alex MacDonald, later called the training at Congressional “malice in wonderland.”

The practice range became a rifle range, and bunkers were used for grenade practice. The dense wooded areas were perfect for nighttime commando exercises, and an obstacle course, set with booby traps, stretched across the first and second holes. Hand-to-hand combat was taught next to a mock fuselage from which paratroopers learned to jump. Men crawled on their bellies across fairways sprayed with live machine gun fire, and the greens made excellent targets for mortar practice. So did the caddie shack and every rain shelter on the course.

“We literally just blew the place up,” said Al Johnson, who, like most of the living O.S.S. veterans — there are about 200 — is in his late 80s.
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